Recruiting new Legal Officer

Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights.

The Legal Officer is a new and critical role at Birthrights to manage our advisory and legal work, including running the advice service, overseeing strategic litigation and providing legal policy input with core stakeholders.

This is a part-time home based role, with a pro-rata salary of £15,000. To find out more and how to apply please download the Job Description.

Closing date for applications is 5pm on Wednesday 27th June 2018.

Home birth – what are a Trust’s responsibilities towards midwives and women?

What are the responsibilities of midwives to care for women who have requested a home birth? And how can Trusts best support these responsibilities?

Midwives owe the women they care for a legal ‘duty of care’. They are obliged by the NMC Code to ‘put the interests of people using midwifery services first’ and to ‘make their care and safety [their] main concern’. Under human rights law, all Trusts and their employees are obliged to respect women’s decisions in childbirth and cannot compel a woman to receive care in a hospital.

If a woman has stated her preference for a home birth and informs the NHS Trust or home birth team that she is in labour, the woman can expect the midwife to attend her at home. Trusts that prevent midwives from attending a home birth for a woman under their care present their midwives with a difficult dilemma – to defy their employer and put the woman first, or obey their employer and neglect their duty of care. If a midwife does not attend a woman, and the woman or her baby die, there is a real risk that the Trust could have breached the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

In recent weeks, a small number of Trust home birth policies have been brought to our attention, which have suggested that a home birth will only be offered if women agree to any interventions or examinations midwives propose, and in some cases that midwives should leave the labouring woman should their “offer” of an examination or intervention be declined. Legally speaking, women at home have as much right to decline an intervention or examination as in any other birth setting. And making a home birth conditional on this “agreement”, or threatening to leave constitutes bullying and it is very likely to be an unlawful interference in a woman’s right to make decisions in childbirth. If she were to consent to an intervention as a consequence of a threat to withdraw support for her home birth or abandon her care, her consent may not be valid, and the midwife could be liable for criminal assault/battery.

Some Trusts will argue that these policies are designed to protect their midwives from being put in a difficult position and a particular concern has been raised about situations where midwives are asked to wait outside the room while a woman is in labour. It is important to distinguish between a couple who asks for some time alone in labour, and asking a midwife to remain outside of the room for the duration of labour and birth and only be on hand in an emergency. If a woman makes the latter request, it may indicate a lack of trust for the midwife, which will not be assisted by a blanket policy prohibiting the midwife from providing care in those circumstances. Relationship building and individualised care planning are much more likely to lead to safe and positive outcomes.

Midwives are also under a duty not to exceed their scope of practice and their experience. Trusts should be open with women about any concerns they have about their staffs’ expertise to attend more complicated births, whether at home or in hospital. This conversation needs to be managed with sensitivity and while risks must be carefully explained and contextualised, the woman must not be threatened or pressured to accept any particular course of treatment.

Whilst dealing with a home birth that doesn’t go to plan can be stressful for the midwives involved, it is women who ultimately bear responsibility for their own informed decisions. Midwives who give women the best available evidence about a recommended course of action and any reasonable alternatives, document their explanation and discussion and then support a women’s informed decision to decline are upholding professional standards and their human rights obligations, and have nothing to fear from lawyers or regulators.

Finally, as NHS resources become more stretched, home birth services are too often cut back by Trusts. While Trusts may rely on staffing shortages for failing to send midwives to a home birth they should only do so if there is a genuine and unforeseen staffing shortage. If they are withdrawing the service on a regular basis, they can be expected to make alternative arrangements. In a recent case, the NHS Ombudsman accepted that an NHS Trust that refused to make contingency plans after it suspended its home birth services was acting unreasonably.

Trusts’ home birth policies should be based on respect for women’s informed decisions. Any policy that makes care conditional on acceptance of interventions, or threatens suspension of the service due to staffing shortages, does not respect women’s right to make informed decision, fails to put their interests first and risks their safety.

Our email advice service (info@birthrights.org.uk) is available to any woman who feels she is not receiving respectful maternity care and any healthcare professional who is concerned that they are being prevented from delivering respectful maternity care.

 

How should Health Care Professionals handle a maternal request for caesarean?

Its been unusually noisy in the maternity world over the summer, as media reports have reignited discussion about what a safe” birth looks like. At Birthrights we believe that the need to listen to women is the mast that all those who care about the safety of women and babies during birth, can cling to when the seas of discussion get rough. 

Many women want to avoid unnecessary interventions in childbirth and, on the 15th August, Birthrights CEO Rebecca Schiller wrote about the vital role midwifery care plays in ensuring women who don’t need and want intervention have the best chance of avoiding it safely

We have also been working hard to support a smaller but important group of women who feel a planned caesarean section is the right choice for them. We created our recent maternal request for caesarean campaign to ensure that these women’s voices were heard and to discover the barriers to their requests being granted

In this blog post, our Trustee, midwife Simon Mehigan, shares his experience of working with women who want a caesarean for no medical reason, and why the approach of a number of Trusts to shut off this option from the outset, is counter-productive.

“A few years I was employed as a consultant midwife at a large teaching hospital in the Northwest of England. One of my responsibilities was to see all the women requesting a caesarean section in the absence of what was considered to be a medical reason.

Over the course of three years I saw over 500 women. I saw the majority of these women just once with a follow up either by email or by phone. Some I saw twice and for a small proportion I took over all of their care, as it was apparent that continuity would have a significant impact on their decision-making. Here’s what I learnt:

Saying no initially to a womens request for an elective caesarean section creates an antagonistic starting point for discussion and doesnt reduce the overall caesarean rate.

I very quickly discovered that by telling women very early on in my conversation with them that “if a caesarean section is ultimately what you want I will help arrange that for you”, that they relaxed, were prepared to listen to what I had to say and were receptive to discussing alternatives.

In fact having met me and discussed their options, 85% of women opted to aim for a vaginal birth of their own accord and over 70% of those women ended up having a vaginal birth.

A couple of women actually informed me after our consultation that because I had said I would support them in their request for a caesarean section that they no longer wanted one. Being told “no” by consultants had made them more determined to have a caesarean section because they were not prepared to let someone else make decisions about their birth.

A de-brief of their last birth often alters a womens view.

A number of women didn’t understand what happened to them last time. Going through it with them, explaining why things might have happened often helped women in realising that things could be different in this new pregnancy and birth.

After 28 weeks it is more difficult to alter the view that caesarean section is the right choice

Many Trusts schedule these conversations for the last few weeks in pregnancy and yet what I experienced was a direct correlation between the gestation at which I met women for the first time and whether they would be open to explore options that might ultimately feel better to them than a caesarean section. The later I saw them the less likely they were to consider any other options.

The plans of care I developed in conjunction with the women often focused on having an uncomplicated birth with a low threshold for a caesarean section.

The majority of women I saw had had a previous traumatic birth experience. Common themes were a lack of control, lack of communication from staff and a negative experience of induction. Therefore the plans we made together often stated no induction of labour, no rotational forceps, minimal examinations and diverting to a caesarean rather than trying other interventions if the birth wasn’t completely straightforward

Once a decision had been made a line had to be drawn.

Women found it very stressful having to revisit their decision every time they met a health professional.

A caesarean is the right choice for some women.

I have over the years met many women that have felt a caesarean section was the right choice for them. They could all explain rationally why they wanted to birth their babies in that way.

By listening to them, talking to them as an equal and ensuring they felt in control of the process they not only developed confidence in their bodies but more importantly in their caregivers and the organisation irrespective of whether their final decision was to opt for a caesarean section.

In over 20 years as a midwife I have yet to meet a woman that has made irrational decisions or choices. They have always been the right choice for that women based on her individual circumstances.”

Simon Mehigan

Do I have a right to a c-section? Update on Oxford University Hospitals

On 24th May we launched a campaign to engage with Trusts who state that they do not offer maternal request caesarean sections, thereby denying women the individual respect and consideration they are entitled to. The first Trust we wrote to was Oxford University Hospitals whose policy on offering planned caesarean sections is stated in this leaflet:

http://www.ouh.nhs.uk/patient-guide/leaflets/files/10405Pcaesarean.pdf

OUH responded to our original letter stating that their approach was in full compliance with NICE guidelines, and that they offered a “kind, friendly and professional service”. Unfortunately the reports we have received of women not being listened too, being left shaken by consultations, and being left distressed and anxious knowing that their request for a caesarean section would not be granted by OUH, are at odds with OUH’s account.  Therefore, this week, we wrote again to the Trust, their Commissioners, Healthwatch Oxfordshire and the CQC, to share some of your stories and to urge them to reconsider their approach. If you would like to tell us about your experience or requesting a maternal request caesarean section at OUH or elsewhere, please comment below…

Letter to R Schiller (Birthrights) from OUH

Second letter to OUH from Birthrights with case studies

Birthrights on Mumsnet

We’re really pleased to announce that we have not only updated our own set of factsheets, but have partnered with Mumsnet, to update our answers to their most frequently asked questions about rights relating to pregnancy and birth.

You can find Mumsnet users’ questions and our answers here. Ranging from common concerns about the right to an epidural or a homebirth, to more specific questions about water birth and antenatal check-ups our work with Mumsnet helps us to give definitive answers to millions of women.

We’ve grateful once again to the team at Mumsnet HQ for the chance to speak directly to so many women directly affected by these issues.

About Mumsnet

Mumsnet is the UK’s largest network for parents, with over 10.5 million unique visitors per month clocking up over 100 million page views. It has 170 local sites and a network of 10,000 bloggers and vloggers. It regularly campaigns on issues including support for families of children with special educational needs, improvements in miscarriage care and freedom of speech on the internet.

Mumsnet logo

 

New human rights i-learn course

The Royal College of Midwives and Birthrights today launched a new i-learn module on human rights, which is available to all RCM members.

Birthrights CEO, Rebecca Schiller commented: “With the launch of A-EQUIP planning complex care will not longer be down to a specialist. Therefore all midwives and maternity workers need to understand how human rights law can empower them to advocate for women, and to plan individualised care. This i-learn module created by the RCM in collaboration with Birthrights is an important contribution to further training midwives for this role.”

You can see the full press release here.

Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme – consultation now open

A Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme was one of the key recommendations coming out of the Better Births report. This month the Department of Health has launched a consultation on this proposal.

Currently families whose children have suffered severe injury due to negligent maternity care have to wait an average of 11.5 agonising years to receive compensation. A Rapid Resolution and Redress scheme should offer a shorter, more supportive option for parents.

Birthrights will be responding and will be publishing a guide to the proposals on our website in the next few weeks. If you have direct experience we would particularly urge you to respond to this consultation and use this opportunity to have your voice heard.

The closing date for the consultation is 26th May.

Independent Midwifery: An Update From Birthrights CEO

Following the recent NMC decision on the indemnity cover that IMUK members have taken out, Birthrights has been working to support women who now find themselves without the midwife of their choosing. I wanted to give you an update on what we have been doing to help and to respond to some requests for information.

Letter to the NMC
As you may know, I wrote to the NMC’s Chief Executive, Jackie Smith, as soon as the decision was made public to express my concerns and ask for clarification. I have now received a response from Ms Smith and am asking the NMC to allow me to make that response public. I hope to share it with you in due course.

UPDATE 14/02/17
I now have permission to share Jackie Smith’s response to my letter. You can read it in full here.

Bank Contracts
In the meantime Birthrights posted some information with suggestions about how independent midwives might seek honorary or bank contracts from their local NHS Trusts to enable them to continue to care for indviduals already booked with them. While some Trusts have been able to grant these contracts, others haven’t. I am in the process of writing to Heads of Midwifery who have refused to grant contracts to independent midwives along with the Trust Chief Executives and the MSLC chairs.

In my letters I am making it clear that NHS Trusts (and Head of Midwifery post-holders as Trust employees) are under a legal obligation to facilitate women’s right to make choices about birth (Human Rights Act and Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights). In order to discharge their obligations lawfully, they must diligently consider all the mechanisms in their power to enable women’s choices and decisions in childbirth to be respected. I am informing them that they must consider the individual circumstances of the woman and her particular situation rather than invoking a blanket policy, and insisting that when the Trust has made a decision it must give its full reasons for their decision and these reasons must be clearly justified.

Given that some Trusts have swiftly been able to arrange honorary and/or bank contracts with local independent midwives in this situation, it is not clear what justification other Trusts have for refusing to grant a similar arrangement. So, I am asking them to consider their legal obligations carefully, to investigate how other Trusts have been able to accommodate independent midwives and to reconsider the options available.

I have also included some information about the likelihood of some women feeling forced to freebirth, particularly in the absence of any equivalent provision for continuity of carer within the local NHS services. And I have expressed an urgent concern about the avoidable harm that could come to women and babies in this situation, as well as the difficult position that Trust staff could find themselves in should a disengaged and fearful woman need to access emergency care in labour or the broader perinatal period.

In these circumstances, the granting of honorary or bank contracts may represent the only way for vulnerable women to access any maternity care at a critical time in their pregnancies.

Concerns about midwives attending the births of friends and family
There has been recent publicity, linked to the independent midwives’ situation, concerning the legal position for all midwives attending a close friend or family member in the intrapartum or broader perinatal period.I am aware that, until now, it has been perfectly routine and accepted practice for midwives to attend their close friends and family members in labour, both in a supporter role and as a practicing midwife.However, Birthrights is not in a position to give legal advice to those seeking clarity on the current legal position on this matter. We suggest that midwives contact the RCM, the NMC and speak to their NHS Trust to get clarification on the situation in their area and their particular circumstances.

We will continue to do all we can in public and behind the scenes to support women and their midwives at this challenging time.

Rebecca Schiller

Childbirth and the Court of Protection seminar

On 8th March, Birthrights, alongside Queen Mary’s School of Law and 39 Essex Chambers, will be putting on a seminar taking a critical look at the recent trend of forced caesarean decisions in the Court of Protection.

The seminar (17.00 – 19.00) will feature an impressive line up of panelists including: Professor Lesley Page CBE, President of The Royal College of Midwives, Dr Daghni Rajasingam, Consultant Obstetrician, Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Jo Black, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director for Perinatal Mental Health at NHS England, Polly Sands, specialist perinatal mental health midwife at Guys and St Thomas’s NHS Trust, Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan, writer, mental health blogger, and mum of one, in addition to Elizabeth Prochaska, Matrix Chambers and Birthrights and Victoria Butler-Cole, 39 Essex Chambers.

The event is primarily aimed at lawyers, and judges working in the Court of Protection but healthcare professionals and anyone else with an interest are more than welcome.

To reserve a place please contact: Beth Williams (beth.williams@39essex.com) / 020 7832 1155

More information about the event can be found here.

Birthrights Criticises NMC for Independent Midwives Decision

Birthrights strongly criticised today a decision by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) that prevents many independent midwives from caring for women in labour. The decision (which relates to the level of indemnity insurance arranged for many independent midwives by their umbrella body, IMUK) has resulted in the regulator instructing pregnant women to make immediate alternative arrangements for their birth care.
In an urgent letter to NMC chief executive Jackie Smith, Birthrights CEO Rebecca Schiller said that the NMC’s actions, “appear designed to cause maximum disruption and damage to independent midwives and the women they care for,” adding that, “we do not believe that these are the actions of a responsible regulator.”
Schiller adds that “the NMC has a key role to play in protecting public safety, yet this decision directly jeopardises the health and safety of the women it is supposed to safeguard. Beyond the very real physical health implications of this decision, it is causing emotional trauma to women and their families at an intensely vulnerable time. To date, it appears that the NMC has shown no concern for the physical and mental wellbeing of pregnant women who have booked with independent midwives.”
In the letter, Birthrights highlights the unnecessarily tight timescale imposed by the NMC and lack of attempt to communicate what constitutes adequate levels of insurance. Schiller expresses her concern that some women will now feel forced to give birth alone adding, “many women choose the care of an independent midwife because they are unwilling to access NHS services, often because of previous traumatic experiences. Without the support of their chosen independent midwife, women have already told us that they feel their only option will be to birth without any medical or midwifery assistance. We hope that you will share our urgent concern about the avoidable harm that could come to women and babies in this situation.”
Birthrights is urging the NMC to remedy the damage caused to date by taking urgent steps that include:
  1.  Guaranteeing that all women who are currently booked with independent midwives using the IMUK insurance scheme will be able to continue to access their services
  2.  Reassuring Birthrights, IMUK and the women who have already engaged the services of independent midwives that the midwives caring for them them will not face disciplinary action for fulfilling their midwifery role
  3. Urgently making a public recommendation on what constitutes adequate insurance.